Italy 2007: Day 12
The room is moving and yet I didn’t have a drink tonight: I spent most of today on vaporetto, the ferry buses that ply the canals around Venice, taking both tourists and locals around the island, and my sense of balance hasn’t returned. There are predetermined stops, typically a structure on what appears to be a barge docked to the side of the canal. These barges have few safety precautions, which, unlike the nanny-state that is North America, is refreshing. The boats themselves are roughly thirty to fourty feet long and powered by marine diesels, presumably with some sort of station keeping or maneuvering capability, as they can be manhandled into position for docking. The pilot docks the boat, and a deckhand/porter ties the ship up for less than a minute to onload and offload passengers. Then it’s off to the next stop.
Today was much nicer with bright sunshine and a blue sky over Venice. I’ve been fairly happy with the weather because we’re off season and as a result, not in the heat. The cool weather allows us to move about without sweating too much, yet without snow to hamper us. The only price we’ve paid is the rain, which dampens our schedule.
While waiting to leave to Murano, I got a chance to see some of the vessels that run around Venice. Though it seems like a comic book or science fiction element, Venice really does live on the water and the canals are used for daily trade and life. It’s not like Vegas where the canals are solely for entertainment: Today I saw a Coke dispenser being loaded onto boat, a grocer selling produce off the side of a canal from his skiff, and some construction workers dumping wheelbarrows of stone and dirt onto a barge. The waters surrounding Venice have large ship operations like cruise liners and cargo ships just off the island. The vaporettos and other ships of that class seem to work around the islands outside perimeter and even to the other major islands. These seem to be delivery boats and the like. The inner canal, Canal Grande, has both the vaporettos, delivery boats and also water taxis, while the very smallest canalas are home to the Gondola, for tourists. Many of the delivery boats are driven by a hand on the throttle and an asscheek on the tiller: Most appear to be configured with the rudder control such that the captain can steer by sitting and leaning to one direction or another.
More frighteningly, while people on our streets often drive and talk, many of the Venetians are guilty of boating and talking on their cellphones!
The island of Murano is not too far from the main island of Venice, which either by coincidence or purpose, looks like a fish from the map. If Venice is a fish, I guess Murano is a bubble it hiccuped. You take the DM Linea (Direct to Murano Line) boat to this island famous for glass production and boutiques.
It was an amazing feeling to be out on the ocean. Though the vaporetto bobbed as we moved away from Venice, supertankers and ocean liners in view, the wind blowing and the spray felt liberating and energizing.
In one of the shops, we watched a craftsman blow glasswares, going through a short demonstration of manufacturing various items: A component of a chandelier, a vase, and a figurine of a horse. The chandelier and vase seemed fairly typical but the formation of the horse was really neat: The guy knew exactly how long it would take for limb to cool and sort of flung the workpiece around like taffy. Yet he had an understanding for the material which allowed him to almost fling and catch the soft glass, slowing in motion until they solidified completely.
I suppose the hallmark of the old world in Europe is tradition and quality, if the contribution of America is industrial mass production. There isn’t the emphasis on craftsmanship or pride of work at home, as the modern production system values in the interchangeability of people as components. Meanwhile, these guys have worked their trade for years.
We were ushered into a showroom to see some of the glasswares: Some of them include pendants and vases, picture frames and paperweights. Having recently visited an exhibit on paperweights at the Royal Ontario Museum, I knew roughly how some of these things were made and an idea of their complexity: I asked about a large egg shaped sculpture, which I later found out was 500 euros. Wow. I managed to pick out the most stylish, most simple object in the room and it was also the most expensive. Another type of glasswork featured bundles of coloured fibres melted and cut across, making crosssections of coloured patterns. I thought they are by far the most attractive. Despite the beauty and craftsmanship overall, some of the stuff was really hard to place: I just can’t see anyone putting up some of these chandeliers in a modern home. I guess that’s what you have the Victoria and Albert Museum in London for.
I bought a pint of strawberries or fragola from the skiff owner and ate them while walking back to the vaporetto stop. They seemed natural and fresh, unlike the corporate farm grown strawberries we find in supermarkets in Canada. The rest of the day I spent walking around Venice in better sunlight.
I watched tourists in the Piazza San Marco playing with the birds. Thousands of pigeons scamper around, landing on tourists who have cleverly purchased seeds from the local vendors to feet them. You don’t even need feed for them, they’ll land right on you as you shoot photographs, as I learned. Two girls from South Africa who I met there found out that the birds will also drop on you too, especially in your hair.
I also went to the Ponte Rialto, very similar to the Ponte Vecchio in Florence. On each side there is an open set of stairs, but in the middle, a set of shops line the inside. There I saw a guy shooting with a 70-200mm f2.8L IS. I congratulated him on his dedication when he mentioned it was a professional shooter with a bunch of others in his group taking pictures for catalogs, stock and calendars: A second later a second guy with a 70-200 showed up, and then a third with a 16-35mm f2.8 appeared. It was kinda scary.
For dinner tonight I met back up with the group: I had Venetian style liver and polenta, which was prepared with white wine and onions and was very flavourful. Tomorrow I’m returning early to Rome by high speed train to try and see St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, this will be our last day until flying out in the wee hours of Friday morning.